It is generally understood by separating parents that children have a right to a relationship with both parents, where it is safe and in their best interests to do so, and most separating parents will be able to come to an arrangement as to where the children live and what time they spend with each of them, either between themselves or with some intervention from third parties or the Court.
Never mind the children, can I get a Dog Arrangements Order?
The pandemic has seen a huge rise in the number of families welcoming pets into their homes, in particulars dogs and cats. Over time these pets become important much-loved members of the family so if their owners decide to separate it can often be difficult to decide who gets to keep them.
More and more disputes are arising over who keeps the family pet, and separating couples are willing to spend a lot of money to keep their furry friend. This can be as a result of the financial investment in a pet (the cost of purchasing a puppy soared to an all-time high during lockdown) just as much as the emotional bond. The Blue Cross states that dogs and cats are the most fought after pet, followed by horses, rabbits and guineapigs.
What is the legal position on disputes over pets?
Firstly, Fido is not a family member in the eyes of the law, despite him being allowed to sleep on your bed, tagging along on holiday and attending all family occasions.
If the separating parties have children it is often the case that the children have an emotional bond with the pet and therefore where the children are the pet is not far behind, whether that means remaining living with the children, or going back and forth with them between the parents.
If the pet was owned by one party before the relationship then sensibly it can be argued that it stays with that party, irrespective of the relationship built up with the other person.
What if there are no children or it was not a pre-owned pet?
The parties will most likely be told to decide between themselves and if they cannot, then the Court treats a pet as an item of property, another household content like a piece of furniture or artwork. Ultimately a Court can order a pet to be sold and the proceeds of sale to be divided, assuming that the pet attracts a monetary value, in the same way as any other item of property.
For any couples wanting to avoid a pet dispute upon separation, there is the option of entering into a Pet-Nup Agreement, the pet equivalent of a Pre-Nuptial Agreement, aimed at considering the pet’s welfare and recording who should keep the family pet in the event of a future separation. Such a document would then act as a binding contract. This is then evidence to put before the Court that there is an existing agreement between the couple to assist the judge in making a decision.
Whilst becoming more popular, it should be noted that Pet-Nups are not 100% legally binding as ultimately it is the decision of the Court as to whether any pre or post-nuptial agreements should be enforced, and it should be noted that the pet would still be considered as an item of property in the Court’s view.
That said, over the last few years, the Court has attached more and more weight to pre and post-nuptial agreements where both parties knew what agreement they were entering into and did so of their own free will.
Whilst no one should go into a marriage thinking it will fail, the fact is that many do and making agreements for what should happen from a place of love and respect can often make the difficult act of separation more bearable.